I think I first got a copy of the International Examiner in my hands when I visited Seattle in 1976 for the Pacific Northwest Asian American Writer’s Conference, coordinated by Professor Stephen Sumida.
I recall going to some activity in the Chinatown International District (CID) and picked up copies of the IE, Asian Family Affair, the Seattle Sun and the Seattle Weekly. Mayumi Tsutakawa, I believe, was the editor then, and I remember being impressed by the quality of the IE’s content and how it seemed like a window into a real community.
Flash forward a few years, and I’d moved to Seattle myself.
Shortly thereafter, I get a call from the poet Lawson Inada, then teaching at Southern Oregon State College in Ashland. We shared a mutual love of jazz and he was all excited at discovering this talented Japanese American musician, Kiyoshi Tokunaga, who he had just seen perform at a local club with vibist Fred Raulston. He told me the Tokunaga had played not only stand up bass, but also the drums and trumpet, and all equally well. He couldn’t contain his excitement and shared that the duo was coming to Seattle next.
Inspired by Lawson’s enthusiasm, I bounded up the steps to the IE office in the Jackson Building and ran into editor Ron Chew, telling him that the newspaper should interview Tokunaga when he visited. Ever wise at developing new writers, Ron turned the tables on me and said, “Sounds great, why don’t you write it?” Trying to make excuses and stammering, Ron still somehow got me to take on the story.
At the time, I was a poet and painter, not a journalist, so I lost some sleep undertaking the new assignment. I went to Parnell’s, a jazz club in Pioneer Square, to catch the Fred Raulston/Kiyoshi Tokunaga Duo live. I was suitably impressed at Tokunaga’s prowess on, not one, but three different instruments. He couldn’t have been kinder and agreed to an interview with me after the set.
Now came the hard part: I actually had to unscramble my notes and pump out a story that made sense. Being a total novice, I overwrote and filled paragraphs and paragraphs with too much information and unnecessary, flowery prose. New to journalism, I turned in my initial copy to the only two bonafide Asian American journalists I knew, Mayumi and Ron.
I think I still have their critiques folded up in a shoebox somewhere, filled with red lines indicating all the stuff I should try to revise or just plain eliminate. There were more red lines than surviving sentences on that sheet of paper.
That was my very first foray into journalism for the IE and after that I continued to write for the paper, focusing on the arts. The IE was home to an an enormously talented group of young talent.
Graphic designer Jesse Reyes was one of them. He started an arts column for the paper, which served as a calendar of events entitled “Arts Etc.” When he departed for New York, I took over that column and enlarged it.
At some point, I noted the Seattle Weekly’s quarterly book review supplement while leafing through. I wondered why our paper didn’t have something like that, but focusing on books by Asian American and Asian writers. That’s how Pacific Reader came into being.
Over the years, I have written dozens of stories and assigned even more. Many of my early stories were not written very well, but I thank the various IE editors at the time for their generosity in allowing me to make mistakes and learn on the job — a luxury granted to many of us newbies who walked into that office over the years. And definitely not something many mainstream periodicals and newspapers would willingly do.
Community papers allow you to try your hand at different things, make mistakes, and learn. They are a valuable resource that nurtures and nourishes up-and-coming talent and an institution no one in the community should ever take for granted. When you have no voice, how will you be heard?
It’s hard to believe that almost 50 years have passed since the newspaper’s founding. In that time, I have seen how the paper has served as a launching pad and incubation laboratory for so many Asian American artists, designers, and writers who have gone on to make a name for themselves. All along the purpose of this paper has been unwavering: To serve and reflect the Northwest’s Asian Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander American community.
As Arts Editor, I have always felt an obligation to throw a light on the contributions of the arts and artists, for I truly believe it reflects the spirit and soul of any community.
Congratulations, International Examiner, and here’s to another 50 years!